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Book Review: Almost Flying by Jake Maia Arlow

Publisher’s description

In this unabashedly queer middle grade debut, a week-long amusement park road trip becomes a true roller coaster of emotion when Dalia realizes she has more-than-friend feelings for her new bestie.

Would-be amusement park aficionado Dalia only has two items on her summer bucket list: (1) finally ride a roller coaster and (2) figure out how to make a new best friend. But when her dad suddenly announces that he’s engaged, Dalia’s schemes come to a screeching halt. With Dalia’s future stepsister Alexa heading back to college soon, the grown-ups want the girls to spend the last weeks of summer bonding—meaning Alexa has to cancel the amusement park road trip she’s been planning for months. Luckily Dalia comes up with a new plan: If she joins Alexa on her trip and brings Rani, the new girl from her swim team, along maybe she can have the perfect summer after all. But what starts out as a week of funnel cakes and Lazy River rides goes off the rails when Dalia discovers that Alexa’s girlfriend is joining the trip. And keeping Alexa’s secret makes Dalia realize one of her own: She might have more-than-friend feelings for Rani.

Amanda’s thoughts

Let’s just all admit that I’m really overusing the word “delightful” these days. If it doesn’t actually make it into every review I post, it certainly makes it into my notes. I guess I’m only reading things I find, in some way, delightful. This is not a word I use much in my regular, not-review-writing life. But here we are. So. Guess what this book is? Yep. Delightful. A delight.

This book does such a great job showing Dalia really working through some things. She’s grappling with three main things this summer leading into 8th grade: being ditched by her former best friend, accepting her father’s new relationship, and understanding her feelings for Rani, a new girl on her swim team. Those are three really, really big things, but Arlow gives Dalia plenty of space to work through her feelings while also taking her on a fun amusement park adventure. And it’s actually directly because of this adventure that Dalia is able to figure out how she feels about all these things. She’s on this road trip with Alexa, her soon-to-be stepsister who just finished her first year of college, and Alexa’s BFF, Dhruv. When Dhruv references his boyfriend and then when Alexa’s girlfriend joins them for part of the trip, Dalia begins to hesitantly ask them questions about how you know if you like someone and how to know if that someone might like you back. The “someone” isn’t hypothetical—it’s Rani. But Dalia’s worried that if she tells Rani she likes her in that way, she may blow her one and only friendship. Dalia gets lots of great advice and support from her new, older friends. And you can probably guess that things turn out okay for Dalia, since I’m finding everything so delightful and all.

Readers will appreciate watching Dalia sort out her new feelings about just so many things (liking Rani, her dad’s announcement that he’s getting married, her old friendship with Abby, and more). This book is fun, sweet, and has such great characters. Definitely a must-have for middle school library collections.

Review copy (finished hardcover) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780593112939
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 06/08/2021
Age Range: 10 – 14 Years

Book Review: Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan

Publisher’s description

hot dog girlA fresh and funny contemporary YA rom-com about teens working as costumed characters in a local amusement part.

Elouise (Lou) Parker is determined to have the absolute best, most impossibly epic summer of her life. There are just a few things standing in her way:

* She’s landed a job at Magic Castle Playland . . . as a giant dancing hot dog.
* Her crush, the dreamy Diving Pirate Nick, already has a girlfriend, who is literally the Princess of the park. But Lou’s never liked anyone, guy or otherwise, this much before, and now she wants a chance at her own happily ever after.
* Her best friend, Seeley, the carousel operator, who’s always been up for anything, suddenly isn’t when it comes to Lou’s quest to set her up with the perfect girl or Lou’s scheme to get close to Nick.
* And it turns out that this will be their last summer at Magic Castle Playland—ever—unless she can find a way to stop it from closing.

Jennifer Dugan’s sparkling debut coming-of-age queer romance stars a princess, a pirate, a hot dog, and a carousel operator who find love—and themselves—in unexpected people and unforgettable places.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I read for and write posts many, many weeks before they publish. I’m a Type A human who is always expecting catastrophes (thanks, anxiety!), so getting things done as early as possible is my method of operation. Right now it’s early March. I’ve had a sinus infection for three months, we’re getting yet another foot of snow here in Minnesota, and I am so cranky and sunlight-deprived that almost nothing seems fun. But you know what was fun? Reading this book in one day. So fun. This book is cute and fun and set in SUMMER, a time I seem to vaguely remember and hold out a small bit of hope that it will ever appear again in Minnesota.

 

Like romances? Like queer romances? Like books set in a workplace? Like frustrating characters who sometimes make cruddy choices? This book’s for you!

 

Elouise (Elle to some, Lou to others) is always scheming. She’s pretty sure that people are wrong—the summer after senior year isn’t the one that’s supposed to be the most epic ever (there’s too much stress that comes with the transition time). It’s the summer BEFORE senior year that should rule. As such, she is determined that this summer will be amazing. Even if she is once again employed as a giant hot dog at her beloved theme park. Even if she has to watch Nick, her crush, with his girlfriend every day. Even if her beloved theme park is going to close after this summer. Even if she ropes her best friend, Seeley, into a ridiculous scheme that could maybe ruin everything. Yep. Most epic summer ever!

 

Or maybe it could have been, if Lou could just live her life without constantly coming up with schemes. Her worst one, currently? Pretend that she and Seeley are dating (Lou is bisexual and Seeley is a lesbian). In Lou’s mind, this will let her somehow get closer to Nick, her crush. How? Well, they could all go on double dates! And Nick seems a little jealous, or something, when he misinterprets something he overhears and thinks Lou and Seeley are dating. So, sure, solid plan (she typed sarcastically): pretend to date someone else and your crush will fall for you and you’ll end up together!

 

It’s not a great plan. It’s not even a good one. In fact, it’s pretty terrible. It’s made worse by the fact that poor Seeley is kind of forced into this farce and it’s clear she hates it. It’s clear to the reader that Lou is being oblivious and self-centered when she makes this plan. Their fake relationship gets in the way of their real one, with the scheme making everything confusing and complicated, as well as revealing some truths. The publisher’s summary bills this as a queer romance, so you can probably guess what the complication is and where the story goes. But even if it’s obvious where the plot is going, it’s still great fun (if somewhat frustrating at times) watching it all unfold. The unique setting, workplace drama, and changing relationships all make for a cute story that will be the perfect summer read. 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525516255
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 04/30/2019